Diagnosis: Cancer

Published June 19, 2016 by Deb Ragosta

No one wants to get a cancer diagnosis. No one wants to have a loved one or friend who gets the diagnosis. For those of us who live with metastatic cancer, regardless of the type of cancer, it is another reminder that despite the progress being made with new drugs and treatments, we are still a long way from a world where cancer is no longer the devil who picks and chooses its victims without discrimination and often, without warning – ruining lives, families and hopes for the future.

Because I have lived with cancer through myself and others, I am especially sensitive when someone I know gets bad news about their cancer. I’ve lost family and friends to cancer, but it never gets easier. Although the grief eases, it never heals completely. My sadness for them can make me feel guilty because I am doing well, but I watch with awe the dignity and grace with which they face the disease that is slowly taking their lives. I wish I had the right thing to say to them or their family members. I applaud them for being so open and realistic about their illness and wonder if they realize that they may be leaving a lasting mark on another person – one that can be so empowering, it can never be measured and will never be forgotten.

One of my metsisters has been told her options are running out. She writes a blog and posts frequently on Facebook.  She will never know how much her honesty, openness and courage in the face of reality has helped me and continues to support me in my own journey with stage 4 breast cancer. She is my hero and I have told her that many times.  (Several years ago, before my mets diagnosis, one of my closest friends passed away from breast cancer. I never told her how much she taught me about staying strong in the face of devastating reality.  I will always regret not doing so.)

A much-loved family member recently finished whole brain radiation for lung cancer that spread to his brain. My heart is breaking because for many reasons, not the least of which are the wonderful childhood memories I have of spending time at his house with him, his wife and daughters. (Back in a time when families visited with their families on Sundays.) He was always so funny and always had the right thing to say to make everyone laugh. I was a “step child,” but he and his wife never treated me  any differently – even long after my mom step-dad divorced. I wish I could do something to ease her fear and sadness, but I don’t have a magic wand to make everything better.

We all deal with adversity in different ways, but there is no right way to process a cancer diagnosis. It’s different for every patient, every family member and every friend. Diagnosis: Cancer can be the worse news we will ever get, either for ourselves or for the people we love, but not letting cancer define us and our lives may make the difference between keeping our heads up, or drowning in a sea of despair. In the end, all we can do is the best we can do to stay strong and not let the cancer beast defeat us.    

Don’t Stop Believing!

Deb

May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.

Our Easter Miracle

Published March 27, 2016 by Deb Ragosta

Living my life as a woman with metastatic breast cancer really isn’t much different than how my life would have been had I never had breast cancer. I was diagnosed with bone metastases 6 ½ years ago and have had no progression or spread. I know how blessed I am but I also know that the odds are pretty good that, at some point, my cancer will take off and living with it won’t be as easy. Regardless of what lies ahead for me, however, I will never let having stage 4 breast cancer turn me into a woman who misses the blessings given to me every day. Some of them, such as the births of my grandchildren are so powerful, I can embrace them without the cloud of illness blocking the rays of sunshine that are meant for me. How sad would it be if I let the fact of my disease take away the pure joy of the life I live?

At Easter, Christians celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a time of warmth, renewal, rebirth and alleluias. Like many celebrations, both religious and secular, Easter is a family, food and fun holiday – all wrapped into a colorful basket filled with candy and delivered by the second most anticipated once-a-year memory from our childhoods – the Easter Bunny. (Where does E.Bunny get all that candy?)        

I believe that every so often, something happens that is so amazing and special, we refer to it as a “miracle.” If you’ve read my last two blogs or you are my friend on Facebook, you may know that for the last two months my pregnant daughter has been hospitalized due to complications caused by a minor car accident. She was 21 weeks pregnant when the accident happened and fought hard to hold onto her baby until at least a much more viable 28 weeks. 

Many people believe there are no such things as miracles, but I know they exist because I’ve been touched by them in my life in the form of events and things that could not be explained by logic, reason or science. Because I believe in miracles, I can recognize them and embrace them. Last Sunday, March 20th, my precious granddaughter, Natalie came into this world after 28 weeks and 2 days in utero. She weighed 2 lbs., 12 oz. and measured 15 ½ inches long. She’s in the neonatal intensive care unit and will be hospitalized for many weeks, but so far, she’s healthy and perfect in every way. At the time of the accident, physicians gave her a 50/50 chance of survival. Now, she is on her way to breathing on her own and is getting stronger every day. For me, her parents, other grandparents and extended family, little Natalie is so much more than her big brother’s little sis, her parent’s second child and her grandparents’ second grandchild. She is our Easter miracle.

Miracles can and do happen. We just have to be open to recognizing them and realizing how blessed we are to be in their paths. 

Don’t Stop Believing!

Deb

May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.

Life Happens – An Update

Published March 15, 2016 by Deb Ragosta

Just a quick note to tell you my daughter was able to leave the hospital today. She is at 27 weeks/4 days of her pregnancy, but her physicians decided she could go home to strict bed rest. She must have weekly ultrasounds and OBS checks, but the baby already weighs approximately three pounds and is doing well.  

Thank you for all the thoughts, prayers and kind words. Although we all experience life’s unexpected challenges, we never know our real strength until we come out from the clouds to feel the warm healing that surrounds us. It’s there for the asking – from our friends, family, spiritual connections and religious beliefs. We just have to know anything is possible, as long as we NEVER stop believing.

Don’t Stop Believing!

Deb

May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.

Life Happens

Published February 24, 2016 by Deb Ragosta

For many people dealing with serious illness, the shock of the diagnosis is often enough to put us into an emotional place where it’s easy to ignore the life going on around us. We get so focused on the shock of our new reality that we can easily find ourselves already beginning treatment before we have time to process and accept all that is going on. For me, when the shock of hearing “you have stage 4 breast cancer” wore off, I had to face and accept that I would be in treatment for that cancer for the rest of my life. Treatment would never end and I was officially a breast cancer “lifer.” My life would go on, but so would all the ramifications of knowing I would always be one tumor marker or progression away from yet another treatment change.

As, with life, however, none of us live in a cocoon and we must live with all that goes on around us – having nothing to do with our health situation, but everything to do with the fact that the world doesn’t stop because we’ve been hit by an unmoveable iceberg.

In the 6-plus years since my mets diagnosis, I’ve experienced many non-cancer related, albeit life-changing events. I’ve lost a job that I loved, I’ve become a grandparent for the first time and I’ve watched my own child settle into a life filled with all I ever wished for her. I put the negative things into my “it could be worse” category and the positive things have been added to my completed “bucket list.” I try to put perspective into everything that happens and that usually smooths things out for me and helps make my life more normal.

While we react to unexpected joys and traumas in different ways, occasionally, our reaction when we are affected by something that is beyond what we have ever prepared for can’t be imagined until it happens. If we win millions of dollars in the lottery, although we may have dreamed about that possibility throughout our lives, we will never know how we will react until it actually happens. Similarly, while we assume we are safe in our cars because we are good drivers, a split-second decision (or lack, thereof) of another driver can can change lives forever.

Recently, my adult daughter was involved in an accident when she was stopped at a red light and was hit from behind by another driver. It was a minor accident and at another time, would have given my daughter nothing more than shoulder bruises from her seat belt. The air bag never inflated. What turned this from fender-bender to horror is the fact that at the time of the crash, my daughter was 21 weeks pregnant with her second child. Except for a very short discharge, she has been hospitalized since the crash and will be until her baby girl is born. Every day is a gift and allows the baby to grow and get stronger. If she holds off until 28 weeks, there is a great chance she will be perfectly normal. The odds go down if she is born in the next 3 weeks, they go up for every day from 28 weeks to 34 weeks.  

Needless to say, since the accident, I haven’t thought about my own health situation. Even having metastatic breast cancer (and respiratory issues related to a medication I was on for the cancer) seems trivial and minor compared to my daughter’s situation. Healthy babies are born all the time and we tend to take for granted that ours will be healthy and normal as well. How could I possibly feel sorry for myself when my child is fighting for her child? Of course, I can’t and don’t, but her situation has caused me to pause and look at my own journey.  

What I’ve realized is that in the grand scheme of my life, having stage 4 breast cancer isn’t the worse thing that can happen. Yes, it’s bad and not what I expected or wanted, but in the end, there is so much more that can affect and change me. After watching my daughter and son-in-law deal with their situation over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that in the end, the reality is that life happens and as much as we think we can control our lives, we really can’t be in total control. Whether we are dealing with the negatives or the positives of life, all we can do is try to make the right choices and hope others do the same.  

Don’t Stop Believing!

Deb

May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.

RIP Holley Kitchen, the MBC Mom Who Reached Millions

Published January 12, 2016 by Deb Ragosta

Holly reached millions with her moving video. Not a word was spoken, but every word was heard. RIP #Lifer

MBCNbuzz

We were so very sorry to learn Holley died today, January 12, 2016.  She was 43 years old.

“Our hearts are broken as we share the news that Holley peacefully passed away early this morning,” writes Holley Facebook page friend and administrator. “She was surrounded by love, as she has been in every moment of her life. . .Details regarding Holley’s services will be forthcoming. Please respect the privacy of those closest to Holley as they grieve and make all the necessary arrangements. Thank you for your unending support and love.”  ‪#‎Lifer‬

Anyone who wishes to support the Kitchen family financially, can find the links here. Our hearts go out to Holley’s family and friends. She was a true gem.

“I didn’t know my risk for reoccurrence or what metastatic disease even meant,” she told PEOPLE magazine about the impetus for her famous video. “I didn’t want someone feeling…

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My New Year’s Resolution: Living My Life in a State of Gratitude

Published January 1, 2016 by Deb Ragosta

It’s hard to believe, but another new year has arrived, and, as usual, many people insist on making resolutions (despite the fact we know that many will fail before mid-January).  I think some are doomed to fail because keeping the resolution is usually out of our control.  A resolution is a personal choice and can only succeed if the person making the resolution takes total ownership of it.

I gave up making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago, but recently, a friend made a comment about living in a state of gratitude.  In spite of everything – positive and negative we may be experiencing, we can find gratitude in every moment.  That got me thinking about my own life and how I can at least try to turn everyday into a good day, even if it’s been a day when not everything has gone as well as I had hoped.  Can I accomplish this – especially as a woman living with metastatic breast cancer?  Can I be grateful for the fact I live my life from month to month, dependent on disability payments and a small part time job?  Can I forgive people who have wronged me – especially those I thought were friends, when in reality, they were nothing more than people looking out for themselves but using friendship to disguise their true intentions?  Can I find gratitude in the things over which I have no control?

If I were to make an “official” New Year’s resolution, I could resolve to try to turn every day into a good day.  I can’t control the fact I have stage IV breast cancer, but I can control how I deal with it and live with it.  I can choose to not let breast cancer define me.  I can be grateful that despite having a terminal illness, I have done well on every treatment and am now into my 7th year with metastatic breast cancer. I can resolve to be grateful that I can survive financially and have access to the best cancer care.  I can’t control that my perfect part time job will continue, but I can be grateful that I qualified for and was chosen from many applicants for a teaching position that allows me to keep my earnings under the maximum monthly amount allowed by SSDI.

I can certainly choose to forgive those who have wronged me, bullied me, lied about me and harassed me – all for their own gain.  This one is the toughest for me, but I am working on it because these “friends” really aren’t worth the amount of effort I’ve put into being upset and angry about situations over which I had little or no control.  I can, however, control how I deal with this going forward.

In reality, there are many things over which we have no control that truly give us the most joy and reasons to be grateful.  For me, having a 14-month old grandson gives me a reason to be grateful for the gift of seeing this little person, who is a part of me, develop his own personality and grow and change every day.  There are many random things in our lives that bring us joy beyond anything we thought possible, yet we often fail to recognize these as gifts.   We cannot live in the state of gratitude until we realize there is good all around us.  I found this quote by author and blogger Marelisa Fábrega that is a great definition of the true meaning of gratitude and how embracing it can change our lives:

“Gratitude should not be just a reaction to getting what you want, but an all-the-time gratitude, the kind where you notice the little things and where you constantly look for the good, even in unpleasant situations. Start bringing gratitude to your experiences, instead of waiting for a positive experience in order to feel grateful … It means learning to live.”

Instead of starting 2016 with resolutions, I have started the new year by being grateful for the things in my life that allow me to have a wonderful life – even if I do live my life one day at a time.  I can find gratitude in the things and events I cannot control.

In the end, however, I think we could all deal better with the rough times if we are more grateful for the smooth ones.

Happy New Year and may 2016 bring us closer to the cure for metastatic breast cancer and help each one of us learn how to live in a state of gratitude.

Don’t Stop Believing!

Deb

May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.

Christmas and the Sad Truth

Published December 19, 2015 by Deb Ragosta

It’s that time of year again when, for many, the top job of the month is preparing for the perfect holiday.  Regardless of our traditions – religious and otherwise, our “to-do” lists tend to be much longer in December than at any other time of year.  

For many, the passing of another year reminds us of changes in our lives since last year. We celebrate births and mourn losses.  Children who were away at college for the first time, are home making us realize how much we really miss them.  There may have been weddings, divorces, funerals, new jobs and lost ones – joy and sadness.  Of course, in a perfect world, holiday joy would wrap everyone in a blanket of happiness, love and new beginnings.  Sadly, for many families, this month of tidings and good cheer can be anything but.  For me, as blessed as I’ve been – enjoying my 13-month old grandson, traveling to AZ and the Grand Canyon with a life-long friend and responding very well to my third treatment since my mets diagnosis in 2009, there is still the sadness of losing two friends to breast cancer. (One, I knew personally.  The other, I knew as a member of an on-line support group.)  Neither ever complained or felt sorry for themselves, but dealing with metastatic breast cancer wore them down.  One decided to stop treatments weeks before she passed.  The other (who had a school-aged son) was trying anything, right up to the day she posted her “good-bye” to her virtual friends and passed shortly thereafter.

Regardless of our holiday rituals and celebrations, the sad truth is that in the last year, once again – almost 40,000 women and men passed away from metastatic breast cancer.  Their families and friends face a very different reality this year.  No presents, great food and holiday traditions can change that for those left behind as the breast cancer monster finally rendered useless the treatments, diagnostics, clinical trials and second opinions that are very much a part of life with metastatic breast cancer.

While I am not a woman who shies away from a good fight and have been told by several people who know or knew me well (including my own mother and daughter) that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t have the last word, I know that someday, breast cancer will have the last word and no snippy email or comment from me will change that.  I won’t be able to bait my challenger so I can end the discussion with a stinging final comment.  I won’t walk away thinking I won.  As much as I hate to be on the losing end of any fight, I know my challenger will win.  

Someday, it will be my passing that is mourned at the holiday celebrations.  As I believe in an afterlife and that we live through those we leave behind, I don’t want to be the loved one whose passing casts a pall of sadness over treasured holiday rituals.  I want a chair for me to sit in and for my family toast to a wonderful life.  I want to have the last words, as I always do.  “Stop with the sad faces, enjoy your meal and of course – Buon Natale!”

Don’t Stop Believing!

Deb

Dedicated to my mom who would have been 85 today (12/19).  She fought the good fight and passed in 2001.  She is with me – on Christmas and every day.  I toast to her wonderful life!

May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.

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